Does Revenge Actually Make Us Feel Better?

a broken window
Image by SuSanA Secretariat / CC BY

Ah, revenge.

It can be satisfying to think about, especially when you’re reeling with a fresh pain. When someone has wronged you. Fantasizing about getting back at them.

They call it sweet, sweet revenge for a reason, don’t they?

Turns out that label might be a bit overly hyped. In fact, a set of three studies found that revenge actually can make us feel worse.

Why is that? Well, researchers note that those who commit revenge against those who have wronged them actually spend more time thinking about the people who harmed them than those who acknowledge the offense and move on from it. Thinking about the initial act of offense makes them feel worse.

Additionally, they will often feel cruddy after committing an act of revenge.

Does this mean that revenge can never feel satisfying? No. Actually.

Others researchers have noted that if you feel like the revenge target completely understands the connection between their original offense and the revenge that it can be satisfying “educating” them with harmful consequences.

It’s worth noting that even then, however, that the revenge target often thinks the punishment is too harsh, which undermines their understanding (and therefore your satisfaction) and may even cycle into a retaliatory act from them, perpetuating the cycle.

Yuck.

Basically, revenge is an attempt to achieve some form of emotional closure by the wronged party — but even in doing so, in attempting to seize control of the situation, the avenger is still at the mercy of the target’s response to that attempt.

I don’t know about you, but from my vantage point, this seems like an ill-advised way to go about moving on. Even setting aside the questionable ethics of inflicting harm and hoping that two wrongs make a right, it just isn’t very efficient or effective.

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What to do then? Experts generally advise waiting until you calm down and making rational decisions about how you want to proceed. Is trust severed to the point of no return? Then consider cutting the person out of your life and moving on, not looking back.

If it’s not so simple, then consider setting healthy boundaries to create some distance and self-protection.

But in general, the most important thing you can do is learn what you can from the experience and move on.

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This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.

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Books by Page Turner:

Dealing with Difficult Metamours

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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